ON BUDGET 2003-2004: A BUDGET BIASED AGAINST WOMEN, THE POOR AND RURAL INDIA
28th February 2003
The All India Democratic Women’s Association challenges the Finance Minister’s assertion that housewives will welcome his maiden budget exercise. His budget mocks at the needs and demands of housewives and working women in India.
His definition of housewife clearly excludes the millions of rural housewives whose family budgets will be badly hit by the anti-rural bias in the budget reflected in the hike in prices of light diesel oil and fertilizers. Further, the meagre increase of the Antyodaya scheme to only 50 lakh families, hardly one fifth of those below the official calculated poverty line, when 6 crore tones of food grains are rotting in Government godowns means that housewives in poor landless households get no relief from the burden of feeding their families, at the cost of their own health. Housewives who at great personal cost save from meager family budgets for future security, instead of being rewarded by the Finance Minister have been punished with his cut of one per cent on their small savings. His budget promotes privatization and user charges for services that should be provided at subsidized rates to the poor.
Equally shocking budgetary allocations for many important schemes have been cut such as rural family welfare services that have been cut by Rs. 254.50 crores, reproductive and child health care from Rs. 571.53 crores to 448.57 crores and the total family welfare allocation by over Rs. 142 crores. Even as malaria and TB spread, the Finance Minister has cut allocations to these two schemes by Rs. 10 crores instead of increasing their reach. The only increase is in population control and aids control programmes. In the context of a callous approach to public health, the health budget not being increased, the proposed health insurance scheme means that a poor family will have to pay for minimum health services. The Government approach to public health as reflected in the budget promotes the World Bank prescription for privatization of health services.
For working women it is bad news as their demand for more working women’s hostels has been given short shrift by the Government with a cut of 3.5 crores bringing down the allocation to just 9 crores. While the labour social security has been slashed by as much as Rs. 30 crores, the specific scheme for women labour has been cut by Rs. 8 crores and maternity benefit allocations have also been reduced by as much as Rs. 22 crores. In an industry like bidi where the majority is women, the welfare fund has been cut by two crores. The handloom sector which faces the greatest crisis and employs lakhs of women has been ignored in the textile package. The Finance Minister has praised the self-help groups but has not increased allocation to the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh even by one rupee.
The generosity of the Finance Minister in reducing the cost of foreign alcohol will hardly endear him to women.
The Finance Minister has refused to be transparent in the allocations or expenditures in women specific schemes or in women’s component allocations in general allocations. The AIDWA calls upon women to protest against this anti-poor, anti-rural inflationary budget.